I had a long talk the other day with a woman who had just moved with her family to New York. Her husband had been relocated here for his job. After considerable thought, the family chose to live in Westchester. The main reason for their decision was the fact that so many of the towns have schools with great reputations. But since the beginning of the academic year, she has only found disappointment.
Her main source of displeasure wasn’t the teachers or class sizes, but rather the way that the other students acted during the day. Her children had been in a private school abroad, and the main philosophy of their previous school was to create good global citizens. Her little ones had participated in classrooms where the students all looked out for each other and the better students helped the slower ones at schoolwork.
Her past school experiences made me understand that when kids are given a sense of community at school, they bring it home. I felt a little sad, as we in Westchester seem to do the opposite.
Granted, we may not have set out do to it, nor do we consciously realize what we are doing. The fact is, however, that we are making a fleet of little Type-A soldiers. From kindergarten onward, our kids are focused on excelling at any cost. They are coached and prepped to do well academically, fulfill the correct extracurricular activities and ace the College Boards. But even after all this, they are still flat. What’s missing from the picture? Empathy.
How does one become more empathetic? More importantly, how do we teach our kids to be empathetic? In light of the holiday season — and the lessons we've learned from Ebenezer Scrooge and Professor Hinkle of "Frosty The Snowman" — it's not too late! Here are three things that you can do with your children, or even by yourself, to help others out... and maybe even make yourself feel good about it.
Lets start with our furry friends at the animal shelters. Clear out some closet space and get rid of your old towels and bedding. Put them in a bag and bring them to your nearest animal shelter. The people that work there will be so grateful, and so will the dogs and cats that otherwise would be sleeping on a cold concrete floor.
Another place to make a difference is at the local food bank. Bring in some of your extra stuff, or even buy an extra item or three while at the store. At this time of year, the food bank needs your food — and if you can stay a while, your hands. (Don’t worry, they'll give them back).
Lastly, while your kids are excited to get presents at home on Christmas morning, there are those of children spending the holiday season in local hospitals. If dropping off presents for an infirmed child doesn’t make you feel good, then I don’t know what does.
Helping others at this time of year is important. But doing it year-round really makes a difference. The best way to become a global citizen is to start at home and work your way out. It's really nice to get stuff. But it's truly better to give than receive.